Sunday, April 11, 1999

`I would light up Gitanes. She would beg for horizontal Baudrillard in a sand dune'

I'm drinking in the pub with Bridget. Moderately. I need my wits because I'm trying to explain something tricky. If I get it wrong, Bridget may end up a less good friend because I will appear to be telling her that a woman is no more important than a can of diesel.

I want her to help but I don't really want her to understand. And she thinks she wants to understand, but if she ever does, she'll wish she could somehow re-ignorise herself until I am de-understood.

So I can't help thinking that I would actually do less damage to our friendship if I inexplicably stopped talking and gave her a smack in the mouth. Yet, like some feckless Colin, I blunder on…

`I lost my dream girl,' I say.

`That slim, black-haired thing from Russell Square?'


`How can you lose someone you haven't even started going out with?'

`We are going out.'

`Well, how can you say you've lost her?'


And that's when I have to reveal that this has something to do with cars.

I happen to own a 1970 Citröen DS. I am unashamedly proud of its wayward machismo. It is sleek, French, vigorous, black, noir, and French again. It has self-levelling suspension, bench- seats and headlights that swivel when you turn corners. And it is moody. Sometimes, it leaks its hydropneumatic fluid. That is why I occasionally borrow Bridget's car for dates. Particularly for girls that don't matter (that much, I mean. Of course they matter - but you know).

Actually, there was one girl who really didn't matter at all, and I took her out in my then girlfriend's car and we consummated our evening energetically, despite (or maybe because of) the giveaway clutter of moisturiser lids, glitter sticks and hats in the back. Lauren, however, mattered a great deal. She mattered so much that for our first date, I wanted to take her out for a whole day, out of town and definitely, quite absolutely, in the DS.

She accepted. I would pick her up on Sunday morning. We would swish to the sea, my Pierrot le Fou to her Anna Karina. I would light up Gitanes and exhale clouds of Baudelaire. And she would beg me for horizontal Baudrillard in a sand dune.

Except that at 4pm on Saturday, the DS gave out. So I turned up in hired wheels. The only one they had left. A great, lacquered git of a Vauxhall Carlton. I waited outside, noticing the seats. They are fatter than they should be, and the tanned, bovine dermis is crenellated around the stitching so that the whole landscape resembles the scarred and raided wasteland of a skin-donor's bum.

Lauren slithered into the fleshy wash next to me. She teased me with wit and restraint. How perfectly Gallic. And the very Frenchness of it set me off.

Usually, I'm pretty slick in a hire car - handle it like my own - but in the creamy fudge of the Carlton's lush interior, I lost it. I fluffed gearshifts. I hooted to indicate. My body flatly refused to perform the repertoire of cool moves that normally grace my control manoeuvres. Sure, I maintained an effective enough stream of banter, but inwardly I screamed as my dream gasped and turned blue in the Sarin waves of Feu Orange.

There was worse to come. After 20 miles or so, I realised I was beginning to enjoy it. I warmed to a numb thrill, a diazapammed, cruise-in-the-fast-lane tingle. And beside me, Lauren's aphroditic presence was overwhelmed by the sexless, air-conditioned pudge that suggested, at best, a muted little suburban orgasm.

Still, we ate fish. We talked. We laughed. We even kicked up dust in a dune. And we drove back. Sort of gorgeous. But for me it was a gorgeousness haunted by the dry slee of a plastic steering wheel through my palm, and the feeling that every time I moved, I did so with the smug swish of a fat uncle.

`So how did you lose her?'

`Like I just told you.'

`When did you last see her?' asks Bridget.


`So what's the problem?'

Pointlessly now, I explain that Lauren had unavoidably diminished on contact with the Vauxhall's plastic wooden fascia. That the panoramic vanity mirror had sucked some of the beauty out of her face and reflected her as an ordinary bird in an ordinary car driven by an ordinary man. That while the sex had been great, it would have been so much better with a trace of hydropneumatic self-levelling suspension fluid in our hair.

Bridget starts a roll-up and sighs. `Lighten up,' she says, `it's only a car.' Yeah, I think, and you're only a woman.


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